The Electronic Nanny

You have to do it (unless you are among the lucky few who can afford a full time au pair):

You turn on the TV.

Is there a choice? The kids are bouncing off the walls, crashing around, misbehaving creatively. The TV quiets them down. They become perfect little angels. They concentrate on the program. They let you cook, do chores and housework. Relax. After all, your job is demanding and getting more so. You deserve time to just veg.

Photo by Julian Tysoe.
Photo by Julian Tysoe.


But then the guilt sets in. Are you turning your kids into drooling tube-staring automatons? Are you buying personal time at the expense of their future?

Here’s an effective antidote: stories.

8 ways stories (told or read) can counter the negative effect of television:

  1. Stories build love. Television, so isolating, doesn’t. It may sound new-agey, but stories create a space in which a child, or children, can thrill to the sound of your voice, your physical presence, your natural warmth. Your child will feel, vividly, your love. Children thrive on this.
  2. Stories let children become part of something beyond themselves, part of a family. Unlike TV-watching (which is always done alone, even when there is a group of kids), stories are a group activity (you and the child, or you and the children). Children need more of this in their lives.
  3. Stories are ancient. Television is not. Stories evoke your caveperson ancestors, the warmth of tribe, clan, family. They retain astonishing power. Expose your children to this and they will be thrilled. Truly.
  4. Stories help a child develop needed skills, ways to deal with this bewildering and often frightening world. Television creates fear, of violence, divisiveness, poverty, familial destructiveness. The heroes of stories are always courageous, ingenious, resourceful. A child exposed to stories will be stronger and resilient. These are qualities children need. Television does not reinforce them.
  5. Stories make wonderful “parenting moments” possible. Television does not. Here’s how it works: when you give a child a story, you are there. Your presence is an essential part of the experience. The child will be attentive to anything you have to say. Did your daughter exhibit positive behavior today? Here is your chance to reinforce it. Is there an issue in the story you want to expand on for your son? Well, go for it; after all, he’s listening. Stories make these moments work. They are impossible with television. If you try to make a parenting moment while your child is watching TV, they’ll likely simply tune you out. If they’re nice. If not, look out.
  6. Stories build success. They increase a child’s ability to follow complex narrative. To work with abstract patterns. Kids exposed to storytelling are better at math. Better at the stock market. Television, so bland, so enervating, does not do this.
  7. Stories create leaders. Television turns kids into mindless followers.
  8. Stories fire up a child’s imagination. Television does not.

We live in a digital world, of this there can be do doubt: TVs (in every room, often), tablets, smartphones, the ubiquitous computer. We must expose children to this. After all, the screens are central to the economy of this new world. But we can provide important balance.

We can give children stories.


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